That persistent itch for racing will get a nice, comforting scratch this Saturday night as the “race formerly known as the Bud Shootout” (now known as the “Sprint Unlimited”) is set to start. Ask any NASCAR fan, and he/she can tell you just how long two months can be.
All the right ingredients in the mix: it’s Saturday night, under the lights, with a series of dashes leading up to the big finale. Hmmm, now about racing in heats? Why not have more racing events constructed similar to what NASCAR has at Daytona, and All-Star weekend at Charlotte? Wouldn’t it give fans more of what they really want?
The only argument that seems to work against the concept is that it would be different. Newsflash: Grandpappy’s NASCAR has been gone a long time.
For one thing, auto technology is different. There once was a time you could expect wear and tear to eliminate a portion of the field. Overheating, flat tires, blown radiators, engine wear and things of that sort were just as likely as a wreck to take a racer. In 1949, the concept of getting a car to endure 500 grueling laps on a dirt track meant a lot more than it does today. It was a kind of racing marathon in the days of Red Byron and Lee Petty. To be sure, mechanical failures still occur, but not with the same frequency. Those old 500 milers or 500 lappers just aren’t the same war of attrition they once were. Just as your car runs much longer than its automotive ancestors, so does the race car. Even then, if you still want a race marathon, there’s still the Coca- Cola 600.
Fan complain about way too much of the lollygagging that occurs in the intermediate laps. Racing in heats breaks it up. Even better it gives fans more opportunity to see their favorite driver win. There will still be a main event winner, but wouldn’t it be cool if the fan the older driver could say “Hey, didn’t ol’ Mark Martin look sharp in the first heat?” You could even have a scenario where the driver on a team with less funding having shot at greater relevance and camera time under such a scenario, should he take the checkered flag in a shorter dash, one where he has a better chance.
Another hidden benefit would be the breaks. If there’s one thing racing lacks, it’s a scheduled intermission. Heat racing creates breaks for the fans, and time for the networks to get in those dreaded commercial breaks as well.
There are numerous ways you could work out the rules. You could split the field up in two heats, take the top however many from the first two heats, and have them compete in the main event. That will create the urgency to keep a back marker on his toes. Bonuses for winning preliminary heats provides extra incentive for winning.
What say you? What is being suggested here may have logic with such holes in it you could drive a race hauler through it. The basic thought here is to create races within a race that give the fan real racing. The days of sitting patiently through two hours of technology on parade doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s not to say that every race has to be formatted in such fashion, but to dot the schedule with these kind of races might be the kind of innovative thinking that might win back a more casual fan, who, by the ways, money spends just as good as the lifelong fan.
Jim McCoy is a radio and television sports reporter and producer in Southern Oregon, where he makes his home with his wife and three children. Jim is also a radio play-by-play announcer for high school football, baseball and basketball. He was recently named Oregon Association of Broadcasters 2012 Sports Announcer of The Year- Non-commercial Division.